|NUMBER 8||SPRING 1991|
A reminder: our Webster's defines end paper as a «sheet of paper ... [to be] pasted to the inside of either cover of a book». To ensure permanent obliteration, we recommend a quality paper cement: Duco or UHU (in a scrape any old mucillage will do __ Borden's or even crazyglue...).
Guest editorials: «Here ends the second part of the Summa of the Dominican brother Thomas Aquinas, the longest, most verbose, and most tedious to write; thank God, thank God, and again thank God» (an anonymous amanuensis, after copying 750 pages). __ «They can't understand many words of more than two syllables, but that is not saying that they do not esteem such words. On the contrary, they like them and demand them. The roll of incomprehensible polysyllables enchants them» (H. L. Mencken, on «circumambient morons» __ including Dante footnotorieties, suffering of terminal terminologitis).
Footnotorieties? A Menckenism? Not in OED. For years we have been using (in print, too) this grin of a word, mentally attributing its paternity to Joyce. It is Joyceian alright, but with a peculiar Joyceian twist. Meaning to account for it, we rifled through our old Modern Library Ulysses, browsing around in our 20-30-year-old marginal pencilings. We leafed through the volume again. And again. No luck. Did we make up this verbal monster? Did we dream of having seen it in Joyce? Footnotorieties! Here it is, at last, underscored in the old standard edition of Ulysses, p. 646, lines 11 and 13. Its existence (to be confirmed by the next __ 2050? 2100? __ edition of OED) is due to misreading: to the sleepy reader's skipping one line of text. __ Check it out, reader, by all means (and freely use the term). Joyce would have liked it.
Beccaria in his bestseller quotes playful monosyllabisms («c'è il Po a Bra e a Rho? No, non c'è il Po né a Rho né a Bra...») and adds that they are hard to invent __ so at least in polysyllabic Italian. In monosyllabic English they are easy and dull, «and ten low words oft creep in one dull line», Pope complains. In Dante such monosyllabic series are musical settings, with various effects. Uncoördinated («jerky») movement is one effect recognized by good commentators __ at least when macroscopic (as the hellish storm: «di qua, di là, di sù, di giù...»). More subtle is the rhythmical underscoring of an emphatic uttering, a «spelling out»: Farinata's «furon avversi / a me e a miei primi e a mia parte...» or Belacqua's «or va tu sł che se' valente». The draggy pronunciation of the latter is remarked on by the Pilgrim himself: «Li atti suoi pigri e le corte parole / mosson le labbra mie un poco a riso». The rhythmical score may be mimetic of stammering, under duress: «Maestro, che è quel ch'i' odo / e che gent'è che par nel duol sì vinta?». And note that in such series the prosodical means to «reduce» a disyllable to a monosyllable (as by apocope) or to stress a monosyllable which otherwise would be «absorbed» (as by hiatus, rare in Dante) are conspicuously present and attest to a conscious modulation of the text.
In some of his most memorable episodes Dante presents the dramatis personae as twosomes. The evident structural role of these «twins» is to manage a simple yet eminently «optical» opener: «quei due che insieme vanno», «quel foco che vien sì diviso», «l'un capo all'altro era cappello...». (Dante vaguely hints at an implied «theological» function as well: «tal vicino», «insieme / alla vendetta...», «mai da me non fia diviso».) Other narrative functions could be and have been pointed out. May we add one more? The «silent» partner acts, in these episodes, as a «built-in» audience. As «public on stage». As a mime, too: the silent personage «acts out», choreographs, as it were, the proper reaction to the story __ to be imitated by the «real» audience, the readers. The mimetic function remains subsumed for Diomedes and the Archbishop Roger; it is spelled out for Paolo: «l'altro piangea, sì che di pietade / io venni men...». Paolo's sobs are, veniam rogo, a little like the «canned laughter» of sitcoms. No matter what you think of the soundtrack generated by a directed «studio audience» («Laughter!», «Applause!»), it is somehow essential to the product: mirth and gloom being contagious __ as Dante the master storyteller well knew.
Its acronym, NYASk, sounds like an onomatopoeia for nagging denial. The «New York Area Skeptics», a loose association centered somewhere around 97th Street, frontally attack and lucidly confute «theories» of UFOs, ESP, PKMB («psychokinetic metal bending»), etc. They expose and rebut various -ologies: Arkeology (i.e., claiming sightings of Noah's Ark), pyramidology (you know: the atomic structure built into Keops), cryptozoology (Loch Ness, Yeti, et al.). __ It occurs to us: could we editorially entrust some of our themes to NYASk scrutiny? Such as Dante numerology? Just imagine: an evening of New Age Phenomena, Shirley MacLaine, The Poet's Number at the Center, poltergeists... And how about adding to NYASk's best topics (such as moon madness, spontaneous human combustion, Nostradamus deciphered, etc.) some of our own DXV decodings, Veltro keys, «Papé Satán» research? __ Oh, the cui of Guido! Let us pursue it along with astral projection, skotography (ghost snapshots), backward masking (satanic messages in R 'n R). And why not? Let us restudy il pié fermo in the NYASk light of Bigfoot's pes firmus.
We had better begin to apologize. Yes, the translation at times reads like a St. John's Passio produced in a MacDonald's... In terzine, nonetheless? De Sua and Cunningham list one single non-native translator of Hell __ but at least he was Italian. A monstrum then? Against our better judgment, we are set to print a sample canto (in LD 9): we had better begin to apologize. A circus act? Yes; but the acrobat, up there, drumrolled by sequined acrophobia, sliced by sabers of searchlight, stretching to reach the limp trapeze, suddenly realizes there is no net below.